Up until last week, Virginia public schools required all students to wear a face covering during school. Now, the governor has issued new guidance that parents may elect whether or not their student has to wear a mask. But for divorced or separated parents – the decision may not be quite so easy. Parents who share joint legal custody will have to work together to decide, or they will have to bring it up in court.
Most parents in Virginia share joint legal custody, which means they have an equal say in all important decisions regarding their child’s health, education, and general welfare. Any decisions on vaccinations, schools, religion, and other important decisions are to be made 50/50 between the parents. When there is disagreement, a parent can petition the court to obtain “final decisionmaking authority” or even sole legal custody over their child.
For those parents with sole legal custody, the other parent will not have any say in whether or not the child wears a mask.
Some common disputes parents face include whether and when to obtain vaccines, choice of religious upbringing, and medical treatment and testing. Most of the time, the court will look to side with an expert in breaking the tie between parents who disagree. If the child’s pediatrician has recommended testing or treatment, for example, the court is likely to defer to their expertise in making a future court order.
In making a custody modification, the court will likely appoint a guardian ad litem, an independent attorney appointed to advocate for and represent the child’s best interests in the case. It’s important to note that the GAL does not represent the child’s wishes, rather, his or her best interests in the case. The child’s preference is only one factor for the court to weigh in making a determination.
When the court hears evidence, the judge is likely to defer heavily to any recommendations from the GAL, so it’s essential to have your information provided in advance.
In weighing all sides, the court will look to the best interests of the child factors in 20-124.3 to make its decision. The factors are:
If your co-parent is making it impossible to take care of your child, it’s time to get counsel. The top-rated attorneys at Melone Hatley, P.C. are here to help! Melone Hatley, P.C. is a family and estate firm serving Virginia Beach and Northern Virginia. Our philosophy is to provide all of our clients with the highest quality legal representation, innovative legal solutions, and unsurpassed dedication to customer service. Through our high standards, we strive to be a trusted resource to our clients.
We know from experience that a successful attorney-client relationship depends on our ability to understand your needs and objectives. For more information about custody, contact our office at 1-800-479-8124 or visit our website: www.melonehatley.com.